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Penny Dreadful recap: Who said Victorians weren’t sexy?

Who ever said the Victorians were prudes when it comes to sex, never watched Penny Dreadful. This show is not shy about tackling sexual taboos and I’ve seen some things I wish I could unsee – particularly Brona coughing her consumption onto Dorian in the heat of passion. But that is the sort of thing I like about his show; although it seems to be about monsters, it’s really about the brutality humans inflict upon themselves and upon each other. “Demimonde” is the kind of episode that makes you root for the monsters and pitythe humans.

This week was one for the ladies, as we saw (ahem) more of both Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) and Ethan Chandler in their respective relationships with Vanessa and Brona. The episode opens on a party (some folks would probably call it an orgy) at Dorian’s house in which all manner of debauchery is taking place. There is sex, there are drugs, there is sexual, drug-induced art; this is pleasure seeking at its Victorian finest. The party takes place in a huge hall lined with so many pictures and portraits of people, yet Dorian sits and looks bored even amid the torrid sex happening all around him.

*For those of us unfamiliar with the Gothic novel, The Picture Of Dorian Gray written by Oscar Wilde, read the recap here.

This is a telling backstory to the scene in which Dorian leaves the orgy to sit with his painting in this episode, although we don’t see the actual portrait, the writers are presupposing you know the story (and thanks to me, now
you do). What is new, however, is the burgeoning relationship between Dorian and Vanessa Ives. She sees him in the public gardens, in which they appreciate poisonous flowers together, no doubt foreshadowing some horrible events that will probably happen to one or both (and there is some sexy innuendo about touching the flower with her finger). Later, she follows him to the theatre and sits across the balcony from him, giving him the bedroom eyes every time he looks over at her, but we know something he doesn’t. She is probably possessed by a demon, and is probably responsible for Mina’s disappearance into the arms of the dark creature they seek, and is probably being pursued by said creature because she is a dark creature herself. We all have baggage, I guess.

Sir Malcolm, in an attempt to further his investigation into Mina’s death, reveals his plans to go to Egypt to Ethan and Frankenstein while they are there to torture the young vampire, Fenton. Malcolm invites Ethan to go with him (but not before Ethan calls Frankenstein a “bloodless dandy,” and therefore cements the name of my future garage band). This makes Frankenstein insanely jealous, and he  pouts like a snotty younger brother until Malcolm assures him he only excluded him to protect him. He feels better, and probably relieved, since he has bigger problems to contend with in London.

These bigger problems come in the form of the Monster 1.0, who has returned, angry and
vindictive, and is insisting that Frankenstein make him a “beautiful mate.” We haven’t yet learned the whole story about this first attempt, but we know he’s turned out to be quite the Renaissance man, reading Thoreau and Emerson, and working at the theatre, although still being rejected by the actors. His story is not original to this show, but I find it so compelling, because of the sheer sadness of it. Even though he is the least human of the all, he suffers the most because of his human nature.

Monster 1.0 and Brona Croft are the characters with the most humanity, even though they rank the lowest on the social hierarchy. The relationship between Brona and Ethan is so sweet and authentic that I feel myself connecting with their romance and rooting for its success.  This week we learn a little backstory of Brona’s pitiless life in Belfast, and how she came to be a prostitute. It’s a heartbreaking moment, so brimming with grief that you forget you are watching a show about monsters and creatures. Ethan treats Brona to the theatre to make her feel better, but she becomes insecure and storms away when Ethan introduces her to Vanessa and Dorian in the lobby (what an awkward scene – remember, Dorian has paid Brona for sex in the past). The scenes watching Ethan watching her endears me to his character and his American brutishness is becoming something I appreciate in his character, since it reveals his vulnerability.

However, if you will indulge my crush-talk a little further, what makes Ethan even more dreamy, is the fact that is a little bit of a badass. Brona leaves him in the street, after yelling, “You’re f*cking a skeleton! From now on, you f*ck me like anyone else – after you’ve paid.” Ouch. To console Ethan, Dorian takes him to an underground betting ring, in which they bet on a dog to kill 97 rats, but Ethan has some sort of PTSD flashback, and gets into a fight with some snooty, pale-faced Englishmen. He holds his own for a while, but then they get the best of him and they beat him pretty good.

They go back to Dorian’s orgy room to admire his pictures, drink absinthe and discuss the honesty of art then something very surprising happened… they totally started making out. I’ll admit, I didn’t see that coming, but I won’t complain about, that’s for sure. It’s mostly just a nod to Dorian’s complete hedonism, and Ethan’s loss over Brona (who, meanwhile, has collapsed in the street in a coughing fit), but it was sure a shock to see that happen.

This show gets better and better with every episode, and I am particularly intrigued with how Brona’s and Ethan’s
\break up is going to play out — especially after his indiscretion with Dorian. Tweet me your predictions @sroseholt

 

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